In a repetition of the events from 2017, when an overly positive report on Albanian progress was presented by MEP and Albania Rapporteur Knut Fleckenstein, the European Parliament has heavily amended his 2018 report, which lies the foundations for a possible opening of the EU accession negotiations in 2019, after the Albanian local and European elections.
The final report, which was approved by the European Parliament last week, shows a number of amendment that further put pressure on the Albanian government.
The final report includes language addressing the long-standing conflict between the government and the opposition regarding an amendment of the Status Law, which would allow the School of Magistrates to take in new students, and recent graduates to obtain positions within the judiciary system. Because of the a domino effect of delays, the two judiciary bodies in charge of the School of Magistrates have not yet been formed. In the adopted report, the European Parliament added (bold-faced are the added amendments):
[The EP] considers in this light that the preparation of the next generation of judges and prosecutors is even more important and regrets therefore that political parties in Albania have so far not reached an agreement on the necessary amendments to the law on the status of judges and prosecutors with regard to a higher capacity of recruitment and training; encourages adequate financial and human resources to be continuously provided to the vetting institutions;
There is also explicit verbiage related to the paralysis of the Constitutional Court and High Court, which has to a de facto lawless situation in the country:
[The EP] urges the Albanian authorities to complete as soon as possible the establishment of the new judicial bodies and to return to the Constitutional Court and the High Court to a functioning state.
Fight against Organized Crime
The European Parliament also added considerable verbiage about the lack of any high-level corruption cases, against a background in which investigations of former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri and Durrës mayor Vangjush Dako have not progressed:
[The EP] commends the significant improvements made in the legal and institutional framework with a view to preventing and eradicating corruption in public institutions, as corruption is still a major point of concern; calls for additional efforts to reduce the corruption affecting the daily life of Albania’s citizens, to improve the investment climate and to guarantee legal certainty of investments; underlines that high-ranking officials must not benefit from preferential treatment compared with ordinary citizens, should they be charged; calls on Albania to increase the use of financial investigations and establish a track record of seizures and confiscation/recovery of criminal assets resulting from corruption-related offences and to show tangible results in the fight against drug trafficking and money laundering;
[The EP] Calls for increased attention to be given to political and public-private corruption; calls for strengthening the track record of proactive investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in the fight against corruption and organised crime, including high-level cases;
Following the World Bank and IMF, the European Parliament also added its critical voice to the choir condemning the use of public-private partnerships by the government, which independent studies have shown to be high cost, high risk, and untransparent.
[The EP] calls on the Albanian authorities to reconsider the role of public-private partnerships and their impact on common resources and on goods of public interest such as highways, health, nature and cultural heritage in accordance with UNESCO obligations;
It further criticized the government’s destruction of natural heritage through dam construction, often through concessions and public procurement procedure that flaunt the legal regulations:
[The EP] expresses deep concern about certain economic projects that have led to grave environmental damage in protected areas, such as large-scale tourist resorts and the hydropower plants along the Vjosa and Valbona rivers; recommends that Albania review its strategy as regards renewable energy and decrease its dependency on hydropower for electricity generation; calls therefore on the authorities to explore investments in renewable energy projects other than hydropower; urges the authorities to step up the quality of strategic environmental assessments, environmental impact assessments and public consultations on such projects, taking into account local community views; urges the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) to review their support for hydropower plant projects should they lack sound ex ante strategic environmental assessments and environmental impact assessments; stresses the need to ensure that the Trans Adriatic Pipeline project (TAP) is in line with the environmental and social aspects of the acquis; reiterates its call on Albania to implement relevant waste management measures and to align itself with the EU environmental acquis;
These amendments not only show that the the European Parliament is much more critical of the Albanian situation than Rapporteur Fleckenstein, they also show that the background against which the opening of accession negotiations with Albania will be considered next year, is much more comprehensive than simply ticking off “5 key priorities + electoral reform.”